When Danny woke up the next morning, he was greeted by Tucker’s unimpressed expression… and Val’s glare.  What–?

Danny sat up.  He was on his bed, in his loft over Andromeda.  “Huh?”

“You go off investigating a newborn rogue ghost with HUNGER, ALONE, and look at what happens!” Val yelled.  “You got attacked, ALMOST got discovered at the hospital if not for your emergency medical bracelet, which means we had to cover your butt and drag your sorry ass home, and on top of it all…  you got MARKED?!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

“Uh…  Nothing more then usual… I think… wait, MARKED?”  

Danny sat up quickly, hand flying to his throat were sure enough, there was a large, faint scar.  He paled, breath coming in and out fast as he started to hyperventilate.  “Oh god, that happened, that really happened, shit shit shi–!”

“Calm down,” Tucker snapped.  “We’ll go see Clockwork.  Maybe it’s no big deal, maybe it’s nothing.  We’ll deal with it.”

Danny nodded, dazed.  “R-right… yeah…”

Tucker huffed and sat down beside him on the bed.  “Dude, I know I put you up to this and I feel terrible…” he muttered.  He looked at his best friend in concern.  “Like, what the hell kind of newborn ghost could do something like that to you?  How big was the thing?!”

“No… not very big.  Looked like he died in his… I don’t know, early twenties maybe?  Barely twenty at all.  Electrocuted… something like that…”

Danny shuddered as he got lost in the foggy memories, fingers tracing over his new scar lightly, like he couldn’t stop touching it.  “You don’t get it… he’s a fire core, a PURE fire core.  His eyes were red and his fangs… I’ve never seen fangs that big, they were bigger than Dora’s… I… he…”

Danny trailed off, eyes bleeding green for a moment before Tucker snapped him out of it.  “Dude, calm your D, okay?” the other man said.  “I thought you liked that Vlad kid.”

Danny’s hand flew away from his scar like it burned, cheeks flaming pink.  “I do!  You know this has nothing to do with that!  Ask Val, I’ve been the biggest bad in the Ghost Zone since Pariah Dark, but I’m NOT a dominant ghost!” he snapped.  “I’m called the Peace Keeper for a reason!  There has never once been a ghost that was suddenly my… my equal or even able to DO what that thing did!”

“He’s right,” Val agreed, crossing her arms, looking troubled.  “Ghosts court and mate and feed and do all that in a primal nature.  Danny’s managed to stay out of it because he found no interest in those below him, and no one who was equal – like Clockwork or Nocturne – are available or interested.  No one has ever been above the food chain for Danny, but now there is this KID, who with one fell swoop, can MARK him?”

She gave Danny a worried look.  “We need to talk to Clockwork and we need to be CAREFUL.  This thing is a fire core and is going to become powerful.  He fed on you FIRST and marked you as well, so he can certainly feed on others, but I guarantee you he is gonna learn quick that it’s not the same… and he’ll come looking for you.  And the moment he’s strong enough, the moment he realizes what he could DO… well, I shouldn’t have to explain what might happen to you…”

Tucker blinked, staring up at Valerie.  “Wait.  I’m sorry, WHAT happens to him?” he demanded in disbelief.  “We’re not on the same page here.  What could he do to Danny?!”

The halfa’s hand flew back to his scar, eyes wide and face pale, so Val answered for him.  

“A strong enough ghost… especially a core that trumps Danny’s, could turn that mark, into a mating bite,” she replied reluctantly.  “He could FORCE Danny to be his mate, and make him submit… if he gets that powerful.”

Tucker jumped up from the bed.  “Ohhhhhh no, I am NOT letting some newbie chunk of ectoplasm force DANNY to be his bitch!  Danny’s one of the most powerful ghosts in the world!  There has to be some way to track this fanged rookie down.”

He looked at his friend.  “You think you could find him again?  If we caught him and contained him, he wouldn’t be much of a threat.”

“The venom is still in Danny’s system.  If we went after him now, he could turn Danny on us with a simple ‘PLEASE,’” Val said with a frown, crossing her arms.  “Even after the effects are worn off, the venom will still be there.  It won’t have much control over Danny anymore, not unless renewed, but it will make him think twice about fighting the ghost.  No, Danny needs to stay as far away from this thing as possible.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?”

“Wait…”  Danny concluded, pulling his knees to his chest.  “We watch, and we wait.  Next time I see him, I’ll press my panic button, alert you to where I am.  In the meantime… I need to see Clockwork.  Maybe even Ember, she’s a feeder with a mate, she might…  she might have some advice…”

Tucker took out his smartphone and opened an app linked to the mini Fenton-probes back at the headquarters.  “I’ll send her a message.  All I gotta do is type it out and send out the probe with her location and–”

Valerie sighed and folded her arms.  “Yeah, great.  I’ll be out patrolling around the hospital.”

“Wait, what?  Danny JUST said–”

“I know what Danny said, but if I can get a tag on that little bastard he’ll be a lot easier to track.  Plus, Vlad is still recovering from the portal blast; he’s still prone to possession.”

“VLAD!”  Danny cried, starting to crawl out of bed.  “I told him I would stay with him last night and I never showed up!  I need to go see him–!”

“HOLD IT!”  Val snapped.  “You’re not going ANYWHERE near that hospital till I give the all clear.  YOU are going to see Ember and Clockwork and lay low for the next few days, you understand me?”

“B-but–”

“I’m sure Tucker will tell Vlad what happened… mostly,” she said with a shrug.  “Don’t worry about it, I’ll look after the guy.  You can call or skype him when you can, but for now, you need to focus on you.”

The huntress opened the French doors and jumped off the balcony.  

Tucker shrugged and glanced back at Danny, the roar of her engines growing fainter in the distance.  “If it makes you feel better, I can drop in to see him too every once and awhile,” he offered.

“Yeah… thanks,” Danny sighed, slowly getting up from the bed and pulling on his jeans.  He moved slow and sluggish, making Tucker frown slightly.  

“You still drugged?”

“… A little.  Val’s right, I should stay with Clockwork until this passes.”  He smiled slightly, shrugging.  “Hey, this way I can see Frostbite, and Ember’s new baby.  It could… could be good for me.”

“And if the ghost shows up there?  In the Zone?”

Danny snorted.  “You KNOW Clockwork won’t let anything happen.  Or any of the others for that matter.  I’ll be alright.”

“Well, good.  I swear, I’d kill for a teacher like Clockwork or Frostbite!”

Danny snickered.  “I thought that’s what you had Technus for~?”

“Oh, shut up man, you know what I mean,” Tucker snorted, shoving him and plopping back down on the bed.  “Technus is great but other than spinning a few circuits there’s not much MORE he can do!  He’s a great teacher, really!  It’s just such a cool concept, being the protege of a master of time and a king of the Far Frozen…”  

Danny laughed, sitting down beside him.  “Eh, it’s not that great really.  Lots of high expectations, responsibilities…”

He frowned, looking down at his hands.  “It’s… a little lonely sometimes, you know?  How do they even do this?  So few spirits taking on such big duties… Will I end up like Clockwork one day?  Hidden away, in a tower somewhere… alone?”

He sighed, rubbing his face with his hands.  “Ughhhh, why am I even thinking about this now?”

Tucker made a face.  “Well… I could guess why.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I mean, you’re kinda in a tough spot right now with the whole ghost-versus-human romances,” the other man said, frowning in concern.  “You LIKE Vlad, you even say you’re in love with him… but then this other random fire core comes around and marks you with the potential to be your mate.  Paulina NEVER gave me this kind of trouble and I still had headaches at times.  I can’t imagine what this might be like for you.”

Danny groaned, flopping back on the bed like a distressed teenager.  “Love SUCKS man!  At least you managed to grab the girl of your dreams!  Heck, she was even your high school sweetheart for crying out loud…”

A deep frown crossed his lips.  “I’m beginning to wonder if I should just… STOP.”

“Stop what?”

“Trying,” Danny sighed, turning his head to look at Tucker.  “Wouldn’t it just be easier if I could just… just stop?”

The brown-skinned man stared at him.  “Wow… this whole thing really got you good…” he murmured.  “I have NEVER heard you actually TALK about giving up…”

Danny huffed.  “Maybe… maybe not give up, no.  I just think, maybe I should stop thinking about it so much?  Stop worrying about being alone or about my feelings for this person or that ghost and just… just live.”

He sat up, brows furrowed in determination.  “I think Val was right, Tucker.  I think it’s time I focused on myself for a change…”

Tucker punched him playfully on the shoulder.  “That’s the spirit!  Man, I can’t tell you how good it feels to hear you say that!” he told Danny, beaming happily at him.  “You’re always thinking about other people and making sacrifices!  Let me and Val take care of Amity for a change.  You go see those screaming cyborg babies and chat about feeding, and don’t worry about a thing.  We’ll handle it.”

Danny smiled back, happy and carefree.  “It’s been awhile since I’ve gone to the Ghost Zone for something other than just training or business.  It will be nice to explore like the old days!”

He hopped up off the bed, looking lighter than he had in awhile, free.  “I’ll be back in a week!  That’s when Vlad is released from the hospital.  I can call and skype with him from the zone and just let him know that I had to take it easy for awhile after the… well, the ghost attack.”

He shrugged slightly at Tucker.  “It will be nice not living alone for awhile.  But before that, vacation!”

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